By Daniel Wiessner and Katherine Masters
(Reuters) - A group of once-aspiring Abercrombie & Fitch models on Friday sued the retailer and its former chief executive officer, Michael Jeffries, alleging the company had benefited from a sex trafficking operation led by Jeffries.
Former model David Bradberry in the proposed class action filed in Manhattan federal court claims Jeffries, who was CEO from 1992 to 2014, forced models to take drugs and engage in sexual acts with him and others for the chance to be featured in Abercrombie's provocative catalogs.
According to the lawsuit, Jeffries used his position as the CEO of Abercrombie to recruit men and invite them to castings at his homes in New York City, the Hamptons, and other locations. Bradberry and other men say they were forced to take drugs and participate in sexual acts with Jeffries, his business partner Matthew Smith, and others connected to Abercrombie.
The lawsuit names Abercrombie, Jeffries, Smith and Jeffries' Ohio-based company Jeffries Family Office as defendants. An Abercrombie spokesperson said the company does not comment on pending litigation. Jeffries, Smith and Jeffries Family Office could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to the lawsuit, Abercrombie company officers knew about the conduct and the company paid settlements to people who accused Jeffries of sexual abuse or harassment. The lawsuit alleges Abercrombie facilitated the "sex-trafficking conspiracy" as Jeffries continued to reap massive profits.
Jeffries is often credited with spearheading the company’s transformation into a successful teen retailer known for its cologne-filled stores and ads featuring semi-nude models.
He resigned in 2014 amid criticism that he had failed to keep pace with the tastes of teen shoppers, and received a payout of more than $25 million.
Since he stepped down, the company has moved away from its suggestive advertising and rebranded as a more inclusive retailer with expanded sizing and clothing geared toward young adult shoppers.
The BBC earlier this month first reported allegations by Bradberry and others that Jeffries had abused models.
Abercrombie told the BBC that the company was "appalled and disgusted" by the allegations and does not tolerate abuse or harassment. According to the report, an unidentified lawyer for Jeffries said the ex-CEO would not comment on his personal life.
Bradberry accused Abercrombie and Jeffries of violating a federal law prohibiting sex trafficking, among other claims. Models were told that engaging in sexual acts was a typical part of the Abercrombie casting process and were paid thousands of dollars after performing sexual acts against their will, according to the lawsuit. They traveled to New York, London, Morocco and France to meet with Jeffries.
Bradberry is seeking unspecified damages on behalf of a class of more than 100 men who were allegedly abused.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York and Katherine Masters in New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Daniel Wallis)